“Isolated Soul” evokes a deep emotional state of nostalgia and profound melancholy, known as “saudade.” The term translates as the longing for something that is absent, or someone who one loves. The word was invented by the four million African peoplewho were captured and forced into slavery, the very same who today shape the Afro-Brazilian community. This constant feeling of saudade is actually a poetic way to describe missing one’s homeland. It is the very same engine that kept their people alive for so many centuries, during sadness and torture. The feeling was so strong, it marked the identity of a complete generation. It has been transmitted almost as if it were genetic, generation after generation, into the present day.
During the era of the Atlantic slave trade, in the year 1800, Brazil imported more African slaves than any other country in the world. By comparison, the United States received about 3.5% of the total number of slaves brought from West Africa. In Brazil, the slaves who escaped built communities called Quilombos, some of which exist even today. Most of them retain cultural elements of the African homeland of their residents. These communities are among the poorest in Brazil. Some people have had difficulty securing legal titles to land that they and their enslaved African ancestors traditionally inhabited, due to powerful agricultural business and government interests.
Though slavery in Brazil has been abolished since 1888, their descendants kept their spiritual traditions alive in their segregation, tying communities together with the unique bond of shared memory. The slaves worshiped their African ancestors in ceremonies that were violently persecuted by the evangelizing Portuguese, who considered it black magic. Portuguese missionaries believed that if they converted enslaved Africans into Christianity, they would be more submissive. As a consequence, much of the religion practiced by these former slaves survived, through its practice in secret and the adaptation of ancestral African religions with Christianity.The conversion was only superficial, and they managed to keep their religion alive.